PROSSER -- Prosser school officials want to address the two main concerns voiced by taxpayers Tuesday before asking them to pay for a new high school.
Although the Prosser School Board had planned to decide during the meeting whether to ask voters to support a bond in an April 26 election, the board delayed that decision after hearing concerns from several in the audience of about 80 people.
It would be the school district's third attempt to replace the aging and cramped Prosser High School. The bond was soundly defeated in 2005. Three years later, a campaign was pulled before election day when the economy tanked.
Prosser came closer than ever to getting a new school in the Feb. 8 election. The $41 million bond for a new high school east of Art Fiker Stadium gained the support of almost 57 percent of voters.
But that still was short of the required 60 percent.
One person who commented during Tuesday's board meeting neatly summed up why the bond failed.
"You don't need to convince us that we need a new school," said Brian Gustin. "You need to convince us you've used due diligence."
The board seemed to take that advice -- and that of other who commented -- to heart.
Several questioned if the budget for the school had been trimmed as much as possible. And some wondered what would happen with any money left over after the project's completion.
In response, the board voted that the district hire an outside architect or engineer to go over the numbers for the project one more time, at a cost of no more than $10,000.
The district already has a project manager under contract, whose job includes auditing the project and justifying its budget to state school officials, Superintendent Ray Tolcacher told the board.
But another "independent assessment might go a long way toward restoring confidence," said board member Win Taylor. Everyone on the board agreed.
The other change to the proposal also is aimed at restoring confidence. The resolution to be considered March 10 will include a clause that any money not spent when the high school is finished basically will be given back to voters.
"We'll have a requirement that we'll use the money for this project, and this project alone," Taylor said.
The current bond proposal left open the option to use leftover money to fix up existing schools. But under the revised proposal, any money left over will be used to pay back the bond, which will lower voters' tax burden, Jim McNeill, the bond attorney hired by the district, told the Herald after the meeting.
This tax reduction could happen in one of two ways. The money could be put into an escrow account that annually contributes toward paying off the bond, which means taxpayers' share of the repayment goes down.
Or it could be used to pay back a portion of the bond in one stroke, which would shorten the term of the bond.
Either way, if the school costs less, people pay less, McNeill said.
They already are on the hook for a little bit less, because the project's lead architect, Steve McNutt, slightly revised his estimate for the total cost of the school.
Because construction costs are recovering at a more sluggish pace than he had anticipated when he prepared the estimate last year, the cost per square foot is now down to $265, from $270, McNutt said.
And that decrease triggers a reduction in so-called "soft costs," such as sales tax and other fees, McNutt said.
In all, about $2.5 million has been shaved off the budget.
Another issue brought up during the meeting was the potential effect a proposed low-income housing complex in Prosser may have on enrollment in the district, and if it would mean running out of space quicker than anticipated.
The district already has talked to the developer of that project, Tolcacher said. The developer would have to pay whatever it costs to add classrooms for those students.